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Personal Data May Be Left Behind On Electronic Devices

9:03 AM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Whether it be a computer or phone, how much personal information is stored on your device and can you ever delete it permanently? 

NewsChannel 5's Anne Allred put a few used electronics to the test. She bought a laptop and tablet on Craigslist and then grabbed her old iPhone 4 and took them all to Computer Solutions in Webster Groves. 

Within a matter of minutes, systems engineer, Adam Gegg had tapped into the previous laptop owner's personal information. 

"Their photographs, their digital pictures, documents, bookmarks, everything," Gegg said. 

He went on to say how much information you can actually learn from a person's bookmarks. 

"Their bookmarks, their favorites tell you a lot about their interest. They run cross country, they're big into paint balling, they're Cardinals fans, they've got a student at a local high school," he said. 

But the most shocking discovery was the family's 2010 tax return sitting right in plain sight. 

Gegg explained what information was inside the document, "Their social security number, the amount of money they made, where they made it, where they live, if they've declared dependents, and their kids' social security numbers." 

So how do you avoid identity theft disaster? Gegg says wipe the computer's hard drive and reinstall windows. But for the average Joe, that may be too difficult. So instead, Gegg recommends selling the computer without the hard drive. You can easily unscrew it and then you must destroy it. 

Gegg says you have to make sure you puncture the spinning discs inside the hard drive. He recommends using a high speed drill. 

As for the iPhone 4, Allred had reset it months ago, in anticipation of donating it. The steps to reset any iPhone can be found through a simple Google search. Gegg put that factory reset to the test. 

"Nothing, there is nothing to be found. Once you do the wipe there is no way to get the information back," Gegg found out. 

In fact, Gegg found out the iPhone 4, 4s and 5 are all hardware encrypted. That means if you go to your settings icon, then hit general, reset and "erase all content and settings," you can sell your device worry free. One quick footnote though, if you have a SIM card in your phone, take it out. 

Lastly, Gegg tested the Android tablet. He got a similar result because the seller had clicked on "factory data reset." 

Therefore, no personal information about the seller was on the device. But with Androids, Gegg says it is often buyer beware. The memory card the tablet came with had 900 applications. 

Gegg says you have to be careful using apps you are not familiar with because android apps aren't well regulated and sometimes they're a scam. 

"So it might be an application that looks like a calculator when in fact it's sucking your address book and sending it off to someone in another country," Gegg said. 

So as far as handheld devices go, selecting factory reset should protect you. But when it comes to PCs and laptops, Gegg says if they are more than three or four- years-old, the amount of money you'd make selling them isn't worth the time and effort it would take to wipe them clean.

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